Aurel Stein in China

Fascinated by the Orient. Life and Works of Marc Aurel Stein Aurel Stein, discoverer of the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road and of the manuscripts of Dunhuang, in his last will of 1934 bequeathed to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences all his library and almost five thousand archive photos. However, it took almost fifteen years until his legacy arrived at its place of destination.

Stein Aurél fotójaStein died on October 26, 1943, only some days after his arrival to Afghanistan where he intended to reconstruct the trace of the military expedition of Alexander the Great. “I had a wonderful life that could have not finished happier than by finally coming to Afghanistan, which I have been longing to see for sixty years.” – were his last words.

Stein Aurél fotójaHowever, his legacy left in London, as soon as it was legally passed to the Hungarian Academy, was seized by the Department of the Sequestration of Enemy Goods as property of a hostile state, and they set about its sale as ordained by law. The Academy could obtain only the books left in Kashmir that at the death of Stein were not in Britain. However, when after the conclusion of the war they could have started to take them to Budapest, the iron curtain fell, and the books remained in the custody of the Bodleian Library. Only by 1957 the international situation was eased that much that the legacy could be delivered to Budapest, including among others the unparalleled collection of archive photos taken by Stein in the course of his Central Asian expeditions.

Stein Aurél fotójaThis collection has been recently processed and digitized in collaboration of the specialists of the British Library and the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The completion of the works coincided with the centenary of the discovery of the Dunhuang library cave, celebrated by the participants with an international conference organized in Budapest. To increase the solemnity of the conference, a first exhibition of a hundred selected archive photos of Stein was also opened at the Hungarian Academy on November 22, 2007, whose web edition was prepared by us in Studiolum in English, Spanish and Hungarian versions.

Stein Aurél fotójaThe news about this important international collaboration, about the conference and the exhibition spread quickly, and thus it happened that the Hong Kong bussinesman Paul Kan, Chairman of Champion Technology and sponsor of a number of exhibitions connected with the history and art of China, offered his support to the organization of a much larger exhibition presenting all the photo collection in the University Museum and Art Gallery of Hong Kong. This exhibition was opened some weeks ago – its beautiful leaflet can be found here in pdf format –, and now we are working on the preparation of its web edition in Chinese, English, Spanish and Hungarian.

Stein Aurél fotójaThe name of Aurel Stein – in Chinese 史坦因, Shĭtănyīn – has not sounded very well thus far in China. The Chinese official line regards him as one of the imperialists who used to steal the cultural values of the country, and not as the discoverer of the library cave who saved several ten thousands of unique documents from the devastation that soon fell on the rest of the Dunhuang monuments in the period of the civil war and of the Japanese occupation. An exhibition like this would have been unimaginable in China even only ten years ago. It is possible that Hong Kong, like so many times before in Chinese cultural politics, functions as a testing place and attests the silent change of this position.

Stein Aurél fotója